Adapted and directed by Teresa Ludovico
Reviewer: Karen McCandless
The adaptation of Phillip Pullman’s much loved book I Was a Rat! made its debut in the UK at the Birmingham Rep, adapted for the stage by Teresa Ludovico, who is artistic director of Teatro Kismet in Bari, Southern Italy. With the company well known for its physically and visually stimulating productions, Ludovico brought much of her expertise to this production of I Was a Rat!
The story goes that a young and slightly worse for wear boy knocks on the door of an elderly couple – Bob and Joan – living in London. The boy (soon named Roger) proclaims that he used to be a rat and he proceeds to act just like a rodent, rolling around on the ground and nibbling and chewing on anything he can find. When the couple try to find a home for the boy they are turned away time and time again – the police won’t do anything, neither will city hall and school doesn’t work. Roger then ends up being exploited and mistreated by all he meets, with his trusting nature leading him to see the good in everyone. It’s fantastical but believable and surprisingly easy to identify with!
With the most simple of staging and dark and eerie lighting, I Was a Rat! could almost be described as a dance piece. Movement is key to this production. From the fluid movements of the fight scenes, to the spectacular dance scenes from Roger, to the touching waltz between Roger’s adopted guardians, the physical performances were spectacular.
And the contemporary – and very relevant – jokes brought the piece up to date. Talk on stage turned to Page 3 girls and the government shutting down libraries and theatres. The humour was both clever and silly – suitable for children but with plenty of jokes to keep the adults entertained. There was a lot of laugh out loud humour with silly walks, voices and costumes but subtle touches sprinkled in as well. Much of the humour was provided through the physical performances.
Fox Jackson-Keen led the cast in the lead rôle of Roger. Having previously played the lead rôle of Billy in Billy Elliot the Musical, Jackson-Keen has pedigree and he showed it. Both his acting and his dancing were of the highest quality. He tackled both the fun and silly side and the more emotional moments with ease. He looked like he belonged on the stage – he was engaging and likeable and his dance sequences evoked gasps of awe from the audience.
Tyrone Huggins and Lorna Gayle as Bob and Joan added both warmth and humility, as they took Roger to their hearts as their own son. The rest of the cast played a major supporting rôle, being funny, silly, stupid, likeable, mean and also excellent dancers. It would be hard to find a more enjoyable way to spend an evening than watching this funny, silly, intelligent, heart-warming and really rather special play.
Runs until 13 April
Picture: Robert Day